by Laurie Brown (@lbrown1213) The Rams abandoned me in 2016, but I was determined not to let that ruin my football season. I had been a passionate Rams fan and there was no reason I couldn't be a passionate fan of another team. It was all within my control. Enter the Tennessee Titans, chosen for the drivability to games and the fact that Nashville is a very cool town. Done. I was now a Titans fan and I had the infinity scarf and clear plastic tote to prove it. But, there were a few unanticipated issues. One was that unlike the Rams where I knew every player by name and number, I knew no one on the Titans. Okay, Marcus Mariota was number 8, that I knew, but the number inspired no confidence as any Rams fan will tell you (See: Bradford, Sam). With time I knew I could get past that but there were still 52 unknown others I had to contend with. DeMarco Murray...okay what number is he? 29. Okay, there's two. Derrick Henry, the Heisman Trophy guy...let me look up his number. Okay, 22. There's three. And so it went, slowly but surely, player by player I started learning the team. Twitter and Instagram helped too. I started to love Delanie Walker because he was always out doing stuff in the community. Taylor Lewan...he filled the interesting character spot vacated by Chris Long. Things were coming together.
Delanie Walker is a pillar of the Nashville community.
There was one problem though...the Titans didn't always look too good and there were a few times they looked terrible. I didn't like that. I was carrying baggage from my previous team that left me intolerant of bad play and losing games. Not again. No can-do. Fortunately, there were some encouraging signs and a few good games that made me feel okay with my choice and proud of my team. Marcus counted for a lot. He didn't always play the best or necessarily make good decisions on the field but his obvious leadership, strength of character and maturity were huge assets and the guy was only 23. I'd never known a quarterback I could respect before. Marcus was only going to continue to improve and thus the Titans were only going to continue to improve. This was going to work out fine.
Marcus Mariota had a breakout season in his second year.
But then, a wrinkle. I became a serious Janoris Jenkins fan and wanted to watch all his games and that meant watching the New York Giants. After the Rams scurried off to LA, Janoris was the only Rams player that did anything for St. Louis fans. He held a meet and greet at the local ESPN station and made himself available for a couple of hours or more. He posed for pics, signed everything, and invited people to bring their kids down to meet him. The experience was very chill, very welcoming, very fun, and pretty sad. But not Janoris, he wasn't sad at all. He was happy to engage with the forgotten fans of St. Louis. We didn't want to lose him or our team and we were losing both. But, a seed was planted.
Janoris. I had met him once before during his rookie year when he was doing bell ringing for the Salvation Army at a local grocery store. He had already made some big plays and when I shook his hand I said, "Nice to meet you. You're a hero in this town!". He was so shy or uncomfortable or something he just quietly yes ma'amed me a couple of times as he signed my white football, not wanting to make eye contact. He was much more comfortable, more confident at his goodbye signing. He was going off to New York to be a star while we were staying behind, at a loss, without a team.
Janoris Jenkins was a favorite of St. Louis Rams fans.
I started watching the Giants to see Janoris play. I had spent a small fortune on NFL Sunday Ticket to watch every Titans game, but it was coming in handy to catch the Giants too. I started learning the team and it was fun to watch them play. Janoris would eventually be voted into the Pro Bowl. I was still watching the Titans too and they had a couple of great games and were definitely making progress. Marcus was a star in the making and everyone could see it. I pronounced his name wrong all season, but that was an easy fix. The point of all this is, I was worried what this season would be like without the Rams. I was worried I wouldn't like football that much anymore. I was worried it would never be the same. And it isn't the same, but it's still good and in some ways it's better. I lost one team, but I gained two.
The 2016 Tennessee Titans currently control their own destiny in the race for the AFC South division title and a berth in the NFL Playoffs. With a win at Jacksonville this week (likely, but not a given) and another the following week at home against the Texans, the Titans will be part of the NFL's postseason tournament for the first time since 2008.
Many individuals played a part in the team's resurgence from a 3-13 season in 2015. In this article, I am going to list my top 10 most important players of the 2016 season.
#10 - Ryan Succop, K
A perfect 15 of 15 from under 50 yards, Succop dug deep and came up with one of the biggest field goals in Titans history on Sunday in Kansas City. His 53-yard make in frigid conditions kept the Titans in 1st place in the AFC South and on the brink of a playoff birth. He is a reliable and accurate kicker that the coaching staff can count on.
#9 - Avery Williamson
As Jim Wyatt tweeted earlier today, Williamson is one of just 8 NFL linebackers with 90 plus tackles, 2 sacks, and 1 int. He provides the defense with energy and has been a tackling machine in 2016. He is currently tied for 12th in the AFC in combined tackles.
#8 - Jack Conklin, RT
Conklin has been everything the Titans dreamed of when they made him their 1st round draft pick in 2016. He has received praise throughout the league in his rookie season and was named a Pro Bowl alternate. The future is very bright for the young RT from Michigan State, as he has helped the Titans offensive line go from a question mark to a force this season.
#7 DeMarco Murray, RB
Murray reestablished himself as one of the league's top running backs in 2016. He currently ranks 2nd in the league with 1,224 rushing yards. He has also put in 9 scores on the ground and has added 50 receptions for 361 yards. He impact on the Titans reminds me a lot of what Marshall Faulk did for the "Greatest Show On Turf" Rams and he would rank higher on this list of most important Titans if not for the strong work of his backup, rookie Derrick Henry.
#6 Delanie Walker, TE
Walker continues to be the Titans top receiving threat in 2016. He leads the team with 57 catches for 742 yards and six touchdowns. More than a safety valve for Marcus Mariota, Walker is a premier downfield threat who catches nearly everything thrown his way.
#5 Derrick Morgan, OLB
A fast and powerful linebacker, Morgan might be the most complete player on the Tennessee defense. He doesn't get as much national publicity as he might deserve, but opposing coaches know they must gameplan for him. Currently has 9 sacks, which ranks him at #12 in the NFL.
#4 Brian Orakpo, OLB
Named to the Pro Bowl last night, Orakpo has been a pass rush demon for the Titans in 2016. The 30-year old veteran currently ranks 5th in the NFL with 11 sacks. He has a penchant for big plays in big moments and has done a remarkable job in leading the defense back to respectability as its captain.
#3 Jurrell Casey, DT
A beast on the defensive line, Casey plays multiple positions and wrecks havoc on offensive lines. Named again to the Pro Bowl this year, he has led the Titans to the league's #7 rushing defense. A nightmare for opposing offensive coordinators to navigate around, Casey is probably one of the top 10 defensive players in the NFL at this current time.
#2 Taylor Lewan, LT
A big man with a short fuse, Lewan was named to his first Pro Bowl this season. He has led the Titans offensive line, blowing open holes for the running backs and providing excellent blind-side protection for Mariota. Lewan also seems to be learning from some of his hot-head mistakes from the past and has had moments of maturity in the second half of the season. He is still a young player, who paired with Conklin gives the Titans bookend tackles for years to come.
#1 Marcus Mariota, QB
The progression of Mariota in the second half of this season is the biggest reason for their 8-6 record. Time and time again he has led the Titans on important drives to clinch victories. He is still young and prone to turnovers, but is starting to earn the trust of his teammates and the eyes of the rest of the league. Named a Pro Bowl alternate, the Titans playoff fate over the next two weeks is in his hands. I expect him to continue his stellar play.
The Titans defeated the Green Bay Packers at home on Sunday by a score of 47-25, a win that ranks up some of their best of the last 5 years. Tennessee simply dominated in all facets of the game, and it never felt like it was remotely close. The defense did a nice job of shutting down the Packers run game and forced Green Bay to pass the ball on nearly every down, which even with an Aaron Rodgers-led offense is never a recipe for success in the NFL. My biggest takeaway from the game, though, was the improved play of the most important player on the team, quarterback Marcus Mariota.
Marcus Mariota is now number 7 in the NFL in passer rating with a 99.6.
We have seen signs over the course of the season of the player Mariota could become. In week 2 against Detroit he seemed to will the Titans down the field to a win in the closing seconds. Against the Dolphins in week 5 he made the defense look like it was standing still. Still, like any young signal-caller, he has had his ups and downs. His miscues in all five of the Titans losses directly led to the negative outcomes of those games. His mistakes tend to be big ones and they seem to happen in the tight moments of the game.
But when he is on, which is way more often than not this season, he looks special. On Sunday, in a game that was crucial for both of these teams, Mariota was nearly flawless. He led the Titans to touchdowns on their first five possessions of the game, an unbelievable way to start the game that put the Packers in a hole that was impossible for them to dig out of. His athleticism, pinpoint accuracy, and loyalty to the playbook of Mike Mularkey allowed Mariota to surgically dismantle Green Bay. (Side note: Remember when we were all worried about Mularkey and OC Terry Robiskie ruining Marcus? The opposite has happened. They have designed an offense perfectly suited to his abilities.) He had another 4-touchdown game, a historical stat in that no player in league history has had more in their first 22 games.
Sure, it is easier for Mariota to play well with one of the league's top offensive lines and rushing attacks to fall back on. But Mariota has been golden at times this year and leads many across the league to believe that Tennessee has found a golden ticket at the crucial quarterback position.
It's starting to feel like Marcus Mariota is making a star turn in the back half of the season, simply playing better earlier in his career we could have imagined. Many (myself included) thought the Titans were a year away from playoff contention because of the youth of the roster. A Mariota-led Titans team is starting to give all of us a chance to dream a year early.